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Surface Forces: The Irreplaceable Burkes
   Next Article → WARS UPDATE: A Decade Of Trends And The Unexpected
January 5, 2010: Sometimes a weapon comes along that is too damn useful to replace. One outstanding example is the Sidewinder air-to-air missile. Another is the M-16 (5.56mm) rifle. Both have been around for over half a century, and no one can come up with a clearly superior replacement. Same thing is happening in the U.S. Navy, where attempts to replace the Arleigh Burke class destroyers have met with failure.

The navy put much effort into developing a successor for the Burke. But, in the end, the navy could only justify building, at most, three of the new DDG-1000 class ships. Instead, they resumed building Arleigh Burke class destroyers. It's a matter of cost, and effectiveness. The new DDG-1000 destroyers (and slightly larger versions designated as cruisers) would cost more than $4 billion each if built in large quantities. The Burkes cost a billion dollars each. The last of 62 Burkes was ordered in 2002 and is under construction. Another Burke will begin construction next year, and more will be built over the next decade.

Meanwhile, the navy will buy some time (about a decade) by upgrading dozens of existing destroyers and cruisers. This is a bitter pill to swallow, as only eight years ago, the navy was so sure about the new DDG-1000, that it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it would cost to keep each of them in service. These ships were not just retired, they were all either broken up, or sunk in training exercises. The dozen that entered service between 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That's a lost opportunity. But what can now be done is refurb the Burke class destroyers (which began entering service in the 1990s). Most of the Ticonderoga class cruisers (which entered service in the 1980s and 90s) can use the refurb as well, which could boost their service into the 2030s. This, plus building a dozen or more Burke class destroyers will be built.

The refurb policy will cost about $200 million per destroyer (and 20-25 percent more for the cruisers). Normally, these ships get one refurb during their 30 year lives. This not only fixes lots of things that have broken down or worn out (and been patched up), but installs lots of new technology. A second refurb is expected to add another 5-10 years of serviceability. But this special refurb will do more than that. The navy wants to add some of the DDG-1000 technology to these older ships. In particular, the navy wants to install the "smart ship" type automation (found in civilian ships for decades) that will enable crew size to be reduced. The "smart ship" gear also includes better networking and power distribution. In effect, the ship would be rewired. This could reduce the crew size by 20-30 percent (current destroyers have a crew of 320, with the cruisers carrying 350). In addition to considerable cost savings (over $100,000 a year per sailor), a smaller crew takes up less space, enabling the smaller crew to have more comfortable living quarters. This is a big deal as far as morale and retention (getting people to stay in the navy) goes. Most other new items are not space dependent, except for some of the power based ones (like the rail gun). But these technologies are receding farther into the future. Right now the navy has to find a way to live within its budget, and refurbishing existing warships shows more promise than trying build affordable new ones.

But the navy can afford more Burkes because this is a design that is the culmination of over half a century of World War II and Cold War experience. The Burkes were well thought out, sturdy and they got the job done. They became irreplaceable, and thus this class of warships will last more than half a century.

Next Article → WARS UPDATE: A Decade Of Trends And The Unexpected
  

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shep854       1/5/2010 7:13:37 AM
FRAM revives!
 
FRAM (Fleet Rebuild And Modernization) was a very successful Cold War program to keep WWII destroyers in service; the last FRAMcans were finally retired in the 1970s, with the advent of the Spruance class.
 
There was a saying at the time, "When you're out of FRAMs, you're out of 'cans' ".
 
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Nichevo       1/5/2010 10:42:56 AM
"it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it would cost to keep each of them in service."
 
Who is "it," and why hasn't his death warrant been signed?  Does someone need a pen?  I have a pen.
 
More realistically, should there be a separate line-item for mothballing ships so that this sort of thing needn't happen? 
 
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BB45    Easy to sink them?   1/5/2010 4:23:52 PM
Can some of you old salts riddle me this:  how can current ships stand up to big anti-ship missiles?  As I recall, many WW2 ships had armor belts, but modern ships do not.  And with the advent of new anti ship missiles that are boosted to super speeds with RAM jets, how realistic is it to think that any navy can defeat a horde of missiles fired at them?  I have been wondering this for some time, and every time I read about spending millions on ships, I wonder just how worthwhile it is to build ships that cannot defeat missiles. 
 
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BigDaddy       1/5/2010 7:01:59 PM

Major surface warships, in some ways, are not built as thickly as the dreadnaughts of the past. As you said, they no longer have armor belts or hulls as thick as their ancestors. This is mainly because missile technology has made armor of that kind essentially extra weight. A steel belt will be ineffectual against an Exocet

That said, modern warships are not defenseless. Their situational awareness is much, much better than anything available in the past. That is a very big deal. In most instances, we can strike the enemy from a distance greater than they can or avoid setting s where we are not likely to dominate. Modern warships have much better compartmentation than anything from the past, so even if a ship is struck, it is less likely to sink (e.g. HMS Glamorgan, USS Cole, and USS Stark). Finally, our ships can be arranged in strategic formations that protect important vessels from missile attack and allow our anti-missile countermeasures to have the best effect.

All this aside, just because there are effective countermeasures to large warships does not mean nations should not have a navy. Navies perform many functions other than to engage in large scale pitched battles. It?s no coincidence that there have been very few hijackings of US flagged ships off Somalia.     

 
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benellim4       1/5/2010 7:08:34 PM
BB45,
The thing is with shaped-charge warheads and some of the larger missiles during the Cold War it wasn't practical to outfit missile defeating armor. There was also the matter of nuclear weapons, armor helped but not enough. 

And anti-ship missiles are not the only threat. One of the biggest threats to a modern surface ship is torpedoes. Interestingly, the armor on the BB-61 class wasn't rated against the Long Lance torpedo, and things have only gotten worse since.

It is more practical to kill the anti-ship missile. This is something Aegis can do very well.  Aegis uses the outstanding SPY-1 radar and the venerable SM-2 missile to defeat anti-ship missiles. The bird farms and gators are getting something called SSDS, which takes a cue from Aegis in that it integrates the available sensors, including the Mk23 TAS and SPS-48 radars into a single Command and Decision System then passes it on to the correct weapons systems, either the Mk15 Phalanx, the Rolling Airframe Missile or the Nato SeaSparrow Missile System, which can use the outstanding Evolved SeaSparrow Missile. Also available to all ships is chaff, flares and the outstanding Nulka Decoy system. Other measures include the jammer on the SLQ-32(V)3, (V)4 and (V)5. 

If all that fails, which it did in the case of USS Stark, then you have issues. However, Stark took two Exocet hits and thanks to the crew's damage control efforts the ship came home. The USS Samuel B. Roberts took a mine hit that broke its keel, but managed to limp to port. More recently the USS Cole took a hit that was much worse than an anti-ship missile in that most of the damage was below the waterline, and continued floating. Other less dramatic hits include the USS Princeton, which after being hit by a mine, resumed its duties as the Air Warfare Commander in the Northern Persian Gulf. 

All of these ships, except the Cole which is a Burke-class destroyer, are not as "tough" as the Burke's. 

 

 
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benellim4       1/5/2010 7:14:24 PM
BB45,
I would also challenge your assumption that modern ships cannot defeat these threats. They can. We develop targets mimicking these threats, see GQM-163 Coyote as an example, and have fired hundreds of missiles in tests and exercises against threat representative drone targets. We even fire these drones at a Self-Defense Test Ship and let the system do the work. 
 
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cwDeici       1/6/2010 12:53:23 AM
SP disappoints me so sometimes.
 
What is the M-16 doing in this list? It is a decent rifle with an undeservedly long history, that's it.
 
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cwDeici       1/6/2010 12:55:28 AM
That is, it has some qualities that allowed it to live on for long deservedly, but other qualities that should've led to a successor long ago.
 
Just like seventy years ago, Europeans still make better assault rifles.
 
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cwDeici       1/6/2010 1:01:07 AM

Can some of you old salts riddle me this:  how can current ships stand up to big anti-ship missiles?  As I recall, many WW2 ships had armor belts, but modern ships do not.  And with the advent of new anti ship missiles that are boosted to super speeds with RAM jets, how realistic is it to think that any navy can defeat a horde of missiles fired at them?  I have been wondering this for some time, and every time I read about spending millions on ships, I wonder just how worthwhile it is to build ships that cannot defeat missiles. 
 
To answer the last question:
Do you want a navy?
 
Early warning networks and antimissiles to answer the former.
 
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cwDeici       1/6/2010 1:02:51 AM
But as BigDaddy says this is mostly about being seen before you are seen. That's one of the reasons the military wants stealth ships and satellite killers.
 
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